I really enjoyed Haunted in spite of a few really problematic aspects of it. It was well-conceived and thoroughly executed. The characters were typical of the Fear Street series but had enough nuance about them to keep things interesting. There were some genuinely creepy scenes and a premise that kept me guessing. Even though the story felt familiar, I didn’t mind. What I did mind was how shitty behavior on behalf of the two main male characters was so easily forgiven. I’m beginning to see a pattern in these books with boyfriends who have problems with boundaries and never believe the women in their lives. Some of them face consequences, but so much of it is written off as boys being boys. I know this is a sign of the times they were written, but it’s impossible (and quite frankly irresponsible) to not see them through a modern lens regarding gender and accepted behavior. I just wished more of these books ended with women realizing that they truly deserve better.
Observations & Spoilers
Haunted opens up by telling us there’s a Fear Street prowler on the loose. As a result, Melissa’s dad buys a gun. He also buys her a new car for her birthday because they’re rich. But then weird things start happening. Some invisible force takes control of the wheel when Melissa is driving. Invisible hands try to strangle her in her sleep. She’s eventually confronted by the ghost himself. His name is Paul and he wants to kill Melissa because she killed him. Only she has no memory of him, and he can’t remember how it happened. After a few encounters, Melissa agrees to help Paul find out what happened if he stops trying to kill her. So not exactly the romantic angle the book cover seems to suggest. There are no pottery wheel scenes in this one.
At its core, Haunted is a redemption story. A future ghost redemption story to be specific. After several dead ends with the help of her friend Della, Melissa ends up meeting Paul outside of a dance club. He’s very visibly drunk with some friends when he catcalls her. His behavior is really gross, but Melissa is mostly caught up in the fact that other people can see him. She eventually puts it together that Paul hasn’t died yet. Not only that, but Paul’s ghost also follows himself around and finds out that he was the Fear Street Prowler. Together, he and Melissa try to stop him before he gets killed.
In the end, the living Paul breaks into Melissa’s house. She gets her father’s gun, but Paul wrestles it from her. Pauls is about to shoot her when his ghost intervenes and pulls the gun away. It goes off and Melissa’s hand and kills Paul. Even though they couldn’t save him, they were able to give Paul’s ghost some redemption. She and ghost Paul kiss before he fades away, which I don’t think he deserved. I mean, as a living person he cat-called her, ignored boundaries, made veiled rape threats, and tried to kill her. Then she helped his ghost find redemption. She deserves a better boyfriend after all of this, but Paul did not deserve that kiss.
Paul’s behavior was portrayed negatively, as it should have been, but he got more redemption than he earned at the end. Then there’s Melissa’s actual boyfriend, Buddy. Buddy sucks. So do most of the boyfriends at Shadyside High, apparently. Because this is a pattern. When Melissa confides in Buddy about what’s happening to her, he tells her she was just dreaming. If someone you love tells you a ghost is trying to kill them, they probably need help one way or another. Believe that something is happening, even if you’re skeptical. Don’t be a dick like Buddy. As Melissa goes through an increasingly intense experience with the ghost of Paul, Buddy is absolutely useless to her. He shows up at the end and calls the police. That’s the only consequential thing he does.
I wanted an epilogue where she tells him it’s not working out and then dumps his forgettable ass. Then maybe she can explore some new feelings for her bestie Della, who was there for her friend when it counted. There’s was zero queer representation in pretty much every book from my childhood, so I’m reinterpreting as I see fit. Regardless, I want more of the Fear Street books to end with these girls realizing they deserve better than boyfriends who don’t respect boundaries and who don’t believe them when it counts.
On a side note, I might need to start a running tab of Shadyside High teens who are in the DL Pride Club.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, Haunted is ranked 36th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series and 13th of 49 Fear Street books in the main series, placing it squarely in the middle-high tier for both. It should be noted that the series ranking for the Fear Street books is a bit skewed in favor of the later books in the series, most likely due to the drop in popularity in the late 90’s. The books in the latter half of the series have a significantly lower number of ratings, which (I’m hypothesizing) is due to super-fans being unchecked by more critical voices.
This was a cool little concept that made for a uniquely powerful Fear Street story.
No glaring plot holes and a (mostly) satisfying ending. Most of my issues come from the treatment of the characters.
Melissa and Paul were well done and fairly complex, but I had some serious issues with the way male characters are forgiven so easily for genuinely shitty behavior.
Scare Factor: 2/2
Ghost stories are always the scariest to me, and this one nails all of the mysterious and creepy aspects that remind me why I love these books.
I can’t say where I’ve seen this plot before off the top of my head, but there’s a lot of familiarity with it. So I’m taking off a point, even though I really didn’t mind it.